Requirements for Naturalization
1. Time as Permanent Resident
Most applicants must be a permanent resident for a certain number of years before they may apply for naturalization. Usually one must be a permanent resident for 5 years to be eligible for naturalization.
Exception: if you are currently married to and living with a U.S. citizen AND have been married to and living with that same U.S. citizen for the past 3 years, AND your spouse has been a U.S. citizen for the past 3 years, then you only need to be a permanent residence for 3 years to be eligible for naturalization.
It is not enough to be a permanent resident for the right number of years. You must also be in "continuous residence" during that time.
"Continuous residence means that you have not left the United States for a long period of time. If you leave the United States for too long, you may interrupt your continuous residence.
Absences between 6 and 12 months. If you leave the United States for more than 6 months, but less than 1 year, then you have disrupted your continuous residence unless you can prove otherwise. To prove that you have not disrupted your "continuous residence," you will need to seek competent assistance.
Absences of 1 year or longer. If you leave the United States for 1 year or more, you have disrupted your continuous residence. This is true even if you have a Re-entry Permit. If you leave the United States for 1 year or longer, none of the time you were in the United States before you left the country counts toward your time in continuous residence.
There are a few small groups of people who can leave the country for over 1 year and not disrupt their "continuous residence." These people must follow complicated rules and file an application with INS to preserve residence for naturalization purposes.
2. Physical Presence in the United States
"Physical presence" means that you have actually been in the United States. Most applicants must be physically present in the United States for 30 months to be eligible for naturalization. For people who married a U.S. citizen, physical presence requirement is 18 months.
"Physical presence" differs from "continuous residence" in that physical presence involves the total number of days you were outside the United States on all of your trips. Even if you never took a trip that was more than 6 months to disrupt your continuous residence, you may have taken so many short trips that you do not meet the physical presence requirement.
When counting the total number of days you have been out of the country, you should include all trips you have taken outside the United States. This includes short trips and trips to Canada and Mexico.
3. Time as a Resident in District or State
Applicants must live in the district or state in which they are filing the application for at least 3 months before applying for naturalization.
4. Good Moral Character
This requirement must be met by all aliens seeking naturalization. If an alien has a criminal conviction of any type, particularly one for which he or she has been confined in prison for six months or more, he or she is unlikely to be considered a person of good moral character, and should seek competent assistance.
Here are some examples of things that might show a lack of good moral character: (1) Any crime against a person with intent to harm;
(2) Any crime against property or the Government that involves "fraud" or evil intent;
(3) Two or more crimes for which the aggregate sentence was 5 years or more;
(4) Violating any controlled substance law of the U.S., any state, or any foreign country;
(5) Habitual drunkenness or drunk driving;
(6) Illegal gambling;
(9) Lying to gain immigration benefits;
(10) Failing to pay court-ordered child support or alimony payments;
(11) Failing to complete any probation, parole, or suspended sentence;
(12) Persecution of anyone because of race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or social group; (13) Confinement in jail, prison, or similar institution for which the total confinement was 180 days or more during the past 5 years (or 3 years if applying based on marriage to a U.S. citizen).
5. English and Civics
To be eligible for naturalization, you must be able to read, write, and speak basic English. You must also have a basic knowledge of U.S. history and Government.
Certain applicants, because of age or disability, have different English and civics requirements.
(1) People over 50 and have lived in the U.S. as a permanent resident for 20 years don't have to take the English test. They may take the civics test in their native language;
(2) People over 55 and have lived in the U.S. as a permanent resident for 15 years don't have to take the English test. They may take the civics test in their native language;
(3) People over 65 and have lived in the U.S. as a permanent resident for 20 years don't have to take the English test. They may take a simpler version of the civics test in their native language;
(4) people with developmental disability or mental or physical impairment may be exempt from the English and civics requirements.
6. Attachment to the Constitution
All applicants for naturalization must be willing to support and defend the U.S. and the Constitution.